21 Aug 2014
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UPDATE: Atlantic City Recovering As Casinos Prepare to Reopen

Many frustrated with mayor.

The Atlantic City Boardwalk is usually empty in November.

However, there was a particularly eerie silence that enveloped the boardwalk on Friday morning as residents returned home after evacuation orders were rescinded earlier in the day.

It was a silence and a stillness briefly interrupted by a siren one can only assume has been sounding for the last week.

As the afternoon arrived, the sound of that alarm was complemented by the sounds of a city coming back to life, even as more storm clouds began to roll in. Just after 2 p.m., rain returned as the city's casinos readied to reopen.

Around the same time, Trump Taj Mahal and Trump Plaza announced they would reopen at 4 p.m.

Gov. Chris Christie announced at 10 a.m. Friday morning that the casinos would reopen in the afternoon. It was an announcement welcomed by some, and one that infuriated others.

"We can't let it go another week (without bringing employees back to work)," said Atlantic City resident Bernard Terrence, who works at the Tropicana. "The average person can't miss a check. ... We need to hurry up and go back to work."

An electrician who recently moved to Atlantic City from Brooklyn, New York, agreed it was important to have casinos reopen, but he didn't want to see the return of the backbone of Atlantic City's industry come on the backs of the city's residents and taxpayers.

"I haven't had power since Tuesday," said an Atlantic City resident who wished to remain anonymous. "We still have no lights. ... Are we going to be put on the backburner? I understand they want the casinos to reopen, but what about the people who live here?"

Down the streets, many expressed frustration with Mayor Lorenzo Langford's handling of both preparation before Tropical Storm Sandy and in its aftermath.

One resident called the fighting between Langford and Gov. Chris Christie over Langford setting up shelters for residents despite a mandatory evacuation being in effect "childish," and said it was time for them to "grow up."

"Emergency management did very good under the circumstances, but I don't think they had much help," one resident, who wished to remain anonymous, said. "You look at the TV, and you see that mayors are getting involved in towns up north, and then you look here and see the mayor had no physical presence. ... Where were they? How could they not be involved?"

While much of the city appeared to have been cleaned up, one street remained covered in sand on one end of the island, while many residents remained without power on the other.

Residents suffered from basements that were flooded out, windows that had been broken by strong winds and doorknobs rendered useless by water as much as seven feet high.

"The water was up to my waist," said Edsel Coates, an 18-year-old resident who's lived in Atlantic City since 1999. "I didn't know how high the water was going to get. I thought it was going to flood my house."

Coates remained in his home with his family despite warnings to evacuate.

"I saw Hurricane Irene and that wasn't a big deal," Coates said. "This was a lot worse."

"I thought this was it for us," said Atlantic City resident Raul Torres, who lived through the storm of 1962. "This was really scary. I can't believe the house is still standing. We're blessed to be here."

Torres said he didn't think his house would be able to withstand another storm, though.

"On Sunday, I thought I could ride it out, but on Monday, I began to get scared," said Atlantic City resident Nestor Matos, whose basement fell victim to flooding. "I've lived in this house for over 20 years. I've been through a lot of storms, and I've never seen one like this. I saw a huge piece of the boardwalk floating down the streets."

About six blocks of the boardwalk was destroyed. In the area in which the boardwalk had washed away, there were still wires hanging. A few blocks to the east, the Steel Pier was still standing, complete with amusement rides, a scene that stood in stark contrast to the rides in Seaside Heights that were washed away.

"The first thing we did when the storm was over was go see the boardwalk," Coates said. " ... (Seeing the boardwalk floating down the street) was kind of shocking because it was a pretty big piece."

Other residents took the evacuation warnings seriously, and were eager to return to their homes.

"They just let people back in today. They should've let them in a while ago," Coates said. "People were anxious to assess their homes."

"I wanted to see the damage so bad," said Matthew Vasquez, an Atlantic City resident for six years.

He evacuated when warned to do so on Sunday, and waited nearly a full week to see his home again. Residents were told at 8 a.m. Friday they could return to their homes, and it was still a few hourse before they could return.

Police were verifying proof of residency or business ownership, bringing traffic into the city to a virtual stop on Friday.

"I had to wait in line on the Expressway for two hours," said Jose Rivera, an Atlantic City resident of 15 years. "It was overwhelming (to come back to). I didn't think the water would get that high."

Coates said cleanup and power restoration began two days after the storm was over, and on Friday, it was clear progress had been made in some areas of the city.

Businesses were reopening. People were returning to the city. Casinos were given the go-ahead to reopen.

A city that took a direct hit from one of the worst storms in recent memory was beginning to recover, but it was clear there was still work to be done.

And off on the boardwalk, a broken alarm provided a memory of the week that was for the city.

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